Markets in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and environs have closed in response to the government's stay-at-home order while panic buying is intensifying.
Although the stay-at-home orders differ from state to state, PREMIUM TIMES' visits to some markets and supermarkets in Abuja and Lagos on Wednesday showed some hustlings by buyers and shoppers to stock up their homes with essentials to last the period they are expected to stay at home with their families.
Indications are that Nigerians are gradually coming to terms with the reality of the dangers the country is facing with the coronavirus pandemic, with about 46 cases recorded so far, most of which involved prominent Nigerians.
The markets visited on Wednesday included those in Utako, Wuse, and Garki 2 Model market.
The three markets, considered the busiest in the Federal Capital Territory, were almost empty on Wednesday as virtually all the shops were locked.
The new businesses now enjoying huge patronage in and around the markets sell hygiene products like sanitisers, hand gloves and face masks.
Some of the petty traders were seen making brisk business as they hawked these items at prices above the usual.
At Wuse market, there was partial compliance with the directives by the FCT Minister, Musa Bello, for all markets to be closed by Wednesday morning.
The only exemptions were stores selling essentials such as foodstuffs, vegetables, fruits and medicines.
The minister said the shops are to remain closed for 14 days as part of measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
When PREMIUM TIMES' reporters visited the market, most of the hairdressers and salon workers who once used to call out to customers for pedicure and manicure were nowhere to be found.
One of the vendors said the directive to lock up their shops took most of them unawares.
Kabir Abdullahi, a jewellery vendor, said "the closure is terrible, as it was unexpected."
However, he urged Nigerians not to complain, but take it as a collective national sacrifice.
Although some traders attempted to put up a resistance to the order, it was learnt that the enforcement task force was able to compel them to lock up their shops and go home after they were threatened with a N170,000 fine.
Over 30 security officials were deployed in the market to ensure that stores remained closed.
At the Utako market, there were many buyers and sellers in the market with the majority seen using face masks and hand gloves.
They claimed they were not aware of the minister's directives.
A meat vendor, Ibrahim Ahmed, said no directive was issued to them from the minister "or any other person".
"There is nothing like coronavirus in this country. So, nobody can shut the market. How do we survive and feed our family if the market is closed?" he shouted.
"This is my only source of livelihood. Closing the market will cause lots of problems for most families," he said.
Umaru Yusuf, a tomato vendor, said he did know what coronavirus was and was not interested in knowing.
"Coronavirus is not our business in the market. I came here to sell my tomatoes. So, the government should handle their virus and leave us alone," he said.
The situation was not different when our reporters visited Garki, where commercial activities were ongoing in the fruit sections.
But some of the market women could be seen gathering in small groups to lament the outbreak.
One of the market women, who gave her as Nneka, told our reporter although the closure of the market was necessary, "government handling will likely expose the people to untold hardship and difficulties."
"Let the government know that it is not fair what they are doing us. We were just told late yesterday (Tuesday) by the Wuse Market Association that we will not be allowed to open for two weeks.
"People have come from different parts of Abuja, including Suleja, Gwagwalada and other places to come and sell, only for them to be told to lock their shop.
"They cannot just ask the people to shut down without making provisions for them on how they are going to cope for the two weeks.
"Other countries made provisions for their people. We are aware of the dangers and the reason everybody has been asked to shut down.
"But what I am saying is that it would have been better for the government to allow the virus to kill us than to ask us to close our market without providing an alternative for us.
"If one dies of coronavirus, is it not the same thing as going back home to die, because we have nothing to do? Death is death!"
A trader, Iya Ibeji said: "We hear the government has asked everybody to stay at home. If that happens, it means the farmers who produce the vegetables would not be able to go the farm.
"Even if they are able to go, they would not be able to take the produce to the markets. I am afraid, the days ahead is bleak for Nigerians."
However, the situation in markets located in the outskirts of the capital territory was that of panic, as buyers were anxious to stock up their homes with as much foodstuffs as possible.
As would be expected, the panic among buyers has triggered a massive hike in the prices of available foodstuffs in the markets visited.
Chidinma, a resident of Kubwa, spoke with our reporter about her experience when she went to the market on Wednesday.
"At Kubwa village market, there is panic everywhere. People are (were) rushing to the market to buy things, because they have heard of rumours that the market in the area and other locations in the outskirts of the FCT will be shut down after the ones in town.
"The people are even afraid that the government is going to impose a curfew so, the prices of commodities have doubled, even as the quantities available have drastically reduced.
"A measure of garri, which used to go for N150 now attract a N300 price tag, while a bag now goes for N15,000, against the usual N7,000.
"Also, a measure of rice, which used to be N300, now cost about N800, while a 10 kg bag of rice goes for N5,000 now, where available. A measure of beans now costs N600, against the usual N350.
One of the traders, Abdulkareem Yusuf, who sells tomatoes, told our reporter his concern "was how to exhaust his stock before the closure of the market".
"If these tomatoes go bad, I will be owing my dealer. I need to sell to be able to pay back. Again, if the market does not open in two days, it means my family will also go hungry. It's a vicious cycle."
At many supermarkets, buyers are stocking up as if they are preparing for war.
At NEXT Supermarket, one of the attendants said the population of shoppers has been unprecedented.
He said many of the people say are out to stock up their homes with essentials as no one knows how long the stay-at-home will last, or when the COVID-19 crisis would abate.
Some of the shelves in the big store were almost empty. The payment queue is also unusually long with lots of people waiting to make payments.
One of the buyers identified as Anthony said "Everyone is engaging in panic buying. So, I decided to join, because my sister, wisdom is profitable.
"More cases of COVID-19 are coming up, and at this time, it's advisable to stay at home with your family. So, everything I'm buying today should last for at least three weeks. We hope by then, all of this will be over," he said.
At Sahad stores, the traffic in the popular shop more than doubled the usual as customers experienced difficulties getting parking spaces for their cars.
Most imported products, like honey, dates and other essentials were said to be out of stock because of the heavy demand.
Meanwhile, in markets around Lagos, where the state government had also issued a stay-at-home order, the situation was not different.
At the popular Mile 12 market, things took a new turn on Wednesday, hours after the Lagos government announced the closure of all major markets in the state and markets selling "non-essential" items.
The hustle-bustle of the popular food market in Lagos quadrupled on as thousands of Lagosians stormed the market to purchase food items.
Porters and wheelbarrow pushers were seen panting and sweating at Ketu bus-stop as they carry loads of food items all the way from the market, about two kilometres distance to where their owners parked their cars.
While the owners of the food items were on their heels trying to catch up with the fast-paced 'alabarus', honking of cars and busses were heard non-stop.
The congestion at the market could be felt from a far distance as people kept trooping to and from the market.
The banks along the market corridor were not left out of the congestion, as scores of customers were outside the banking hall, waiting for when they would be allowed into the bank, while others formed long queues at the ATMs.
Cars at the other side of the popular market inward Ikorodu suffered a traffic gridlock, cars inward Ojota were slowed down as the walkway was too crowded for human movement.
The market population was a mix of men and women who came to buy foodstuff for their household consumption and traders who were at the market to stock their stores in preparation for the lockdown.
The population of people outside the market borders suggested that the entire trading for the day was outside the market.
But a step into the market suggested otherwise as the density of people gave no room of free movement.
Haggling of prices between buyers and sellers was brief, as sellers snapped at customers, with their countenance showing the urgency of the moment.
Also, prices of food items have skyrocketed following the announcement of the closure of major markets in Lagos by Thursday.
While traders that sell provisions, seasoning and other related items maintained their prices, other traders, including tomatoes and pepper sellers inflated prices.
The price of rice, beans, semovita, and others relatively remained the same but traders selling garri, yams, fish, meat, tomatoes and other perishable items inflated the prices of such goods.
Commercial buses were not left out as conductors hiked prices.
In what seems to be an unending market day, scores of people were stranded at the market, hoping to get commercial buses to convey them to their location.
Lagos is the state most hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. It accounts for over 30 of Nigeria's 46 confirmed cases as at the time of this report.